Why this madness for initials? We now have, on our newsstands, magazines called GQ, W, M, FMR, BBW, EM, WJR and MGF, among others. House & Garden, remade (and handsomely) only five years ago in the standard upscale repositioning, has again been redesigned -- shot up with amphetamines is more like it -- and had its name truncated to HG. On February's cover, the letters are three inches high.
There is no question of subtle transitions under Anna Wintour, who recently became the third British-born editor of a Conde' Nast magazine. (Vanity Fair and Conde' Nast's Traveler are edited by Tina Brown and Harold Evans.) The new HG is as different from the old as a remake can comfortably be. This one is born to be scanned: Its pages give the eye kiss after kiss of sumptuous color and snazzy scenes, little bites of information and dazzle, the glow of modern luxe.
The impossibly wonderful Hs and Gs pictured here are just alibis for rubbernecking. It is not for advice about window treatments or German appliances that we look in on Bette Midler, David Hockney, Dennis Hopper and the latest line of Rothschilds, in some cases to hear them describe their environments in the gravest terms. The usual celebrity free-lancers, many of them members of the Conde' Nast repertory, are on parade here with their appreciative texts, never taxing nor long, written in the dialect of fur and claws.
In the midst of all this, there is the occasional reward of good reading: William Hamilton has dashed off a few clever lines about marble busts; Christopher Hitchens has taken the measure of the White House as shelter; and Diane Johnson has wrestled charmingly with her persistent psychological adversary, her house in San Francisco.
By and large, though, HG is of a piece with its corporate siblings at Conde' Nast. They share a saucy European affect, and a working assumption that readers have seen everything and don't have much time to see it again. The same editorial attitude is becoming apparent elsewhere on the newsstand, and it's not an unattractive way of publishing a magazine. But should they all look this way?
The Other Bicentennial
Look to be inundated with Australiana, if you haven't been already. The bicentennial of America's soulmate of the antipodes s the occasion for much magazine attention (Life last week, for instance), but the time does seem to be ripe for another reason -- burgeoning U.S. travel to Australia.
National Geographic devotes its entire February issue (and a big map, of course) to the subject. Journalist Ross Terrill, an Australian-born American, gives us a shrewd gloss on the Australian people today. Photographer John Everingham tells his convict ancestor's tale and brings the story up to date with an extended 20th-century family photo album. The talented Mary Ellen Mark gives us her black-and-white impressions of Australia's not always contented new immigrants. And there's a closing section on those who were there first, the Aborigines.
This issue, as you might expect, is full of nice pictures, but it is also, as you might not always expect, full of good journalism.
Election City, U.S.A.
For any who may have missed it (it happens to everyone), go back and find last week's Newsweek (Feb. 1), for its cover package on Campaignland. It is a classic distillation of the madness that is Iowa, then New Hampshire, and onward to November, and it is bound to be even more pertinent in the coming weeks than it was when published.
The package is wrapped in the eye-catching cover painting (after "Alice in Wonderland") by Anita Kunz. Inside is "Washingtoon's" Mark Alan Stamaty capturing Campaignland as no one else could. Newsweek's John McCormick has assembled a lexicon of Campaignspeak (fuel: Diet Coke ... moo-moo: fund-raising event where beef is served ... raisins: elderly voters ... droolers: campaign sycophants who won't do any work). Chief political correspondent Howard Fineman conceived the idea, and senior writer Mickey Kaus gave it its deftly ironic cast.
This is highly untraditional fare for Newsweek, and for news magazines: Compare with Time's analogous Iowa cover package two weeks ago, not overlooking the flaccid ruminations of Hugh Sidey, and see which you prefer.
A Fan's Notes
Washington's Dan E. Moldea is one of a kind, and the kind in question is the tireless hunter-gatherer of evidence that some people would just as soon see left alone. Regardie's has published his recent inquiries into the National Rifle Association and into the Robert Kennedy assassination, and now, for February, presents Moldea on "The NFL and the Mob," fertile but hazardous territory.
There is evidence of legwork here, and of reality: Moldea is careful to say what he isn't saying. He isn't saying the mob is involved in fixing NFL games. He's saying the mob, which has a big stake in the $25 billion that's bet on professional football every year, stays close to the players and the owners to ascertain the most accurate information about the likely strengths and weaknesses of teams.
Too close, of course, in Moldea's view. "It's the equivalent of insider trading on Wall Street," he says. The history of law enforcement in this area is a puzzling record of dropped investigations. The same might be said for the NFL's own (much-vaunted) security machine: If the football commissioner works for the team owners, how can he be expected to police them? "Organized crime has not corrupted the NFL," Moldea concludes, but speaking as a fan, he predicts "a scandal that will spell disaster for the NFL," and soon.